Epigenetic effects of breast cancer treatments

This 2018 UC San Diego review subject was the interplay between breast cancer treatments and their effects on aging:

“Although current breast cancer treatments are largely successful in producing cancer remission and extending lifespan, there is concern that these treatments may have long lasting detrimental effects on cancer survivors, in part, through their impact on non-tumor cells. It is unclear whether breast cancer and/or its treatments are associated with an accelerated aging phenotype.

In this review, we have highlighted five of nine previously described cellular hallmarks of aging that have been described in the context of cytotoxic breast cancer treatments:

  1. Telomere attrition;
  2. Mitochondrial dysfunction;
  3. Genomic instability;
  4. Epigenetic alterations; and
  5. Cellular senescence.”


The review was full of caveats weakening the above graphic’s associations:

  1. “Telomere attrition – Blood TL [telomere length] was not associated with chemotherapy in three out of four studies;
  2. Mitochondrial dysfunction – How cancer therapies affect cellular energetics as they relate to rate of aging is unclear;
  3. Genomic instability – Potentially contributing to accelerated aging;
  4. Epigenetic alterations – Although some of the key regulators of these processes have begun to be identified, including DNA and histone methylases and demethylases, histone acetylases and de-acetylases and chromatin remodelers, how they regulate the changes in aging through alteration of global transcriptional programs, remains to be elucidated; and
  5. Cellular senescence – Dysregulated pathways can be targeted by cytotoxic chemotherapies, resulting in preferential cell death of tumor cells, but how these treatments also affect normal cells with intact pathways is unclear.”

To their credit, these reviewers at least presented some of the contrary evidence, and didn’t continue on with a directed narrative as other reviewers are prone to do.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1879406818301176 “Breast cancer treatment and its effects on aging” (not freely available)


The originator of the epigenetic clock methodology was a coauthor of the review. Only one of his works was cited in the Epigenetic alterations subsection:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10549-017-4218-4 “DNA methylation age is elevated in breast tissue of healthy women”

This freely-available 2017 study quoted below highlighted that epigenetic clock measurements as originally designed were tissue-specific:

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that breast tissue epigenetic age exceeds that of blood tissue in healthy female donors. In addition to validating our earlier finding of age elevation in breast tissue, we further demonstrate that the magnitude of the difference between epigenetic age of breast and blood is highest in the youngest women in our study (age 20–30 years) and gradually diminishes with advancing age. As women approach the age of the menopausal transition, we found that the epigenetic of age of blood approaches that of the breast.”

Additional caution was justified in both interpreting age measurements and extending them into “cellular hallmarks” when the tissue contained varying cell types:

“Our studies were performed on whole breast tissue. Diverse types of cells make up whole breast tissue, with the majority of cells being adipocytes. Other types of cells include epithelial cells, cuboidal cells, myoepithelial cells, fibroblasts, inflammatory cells, vascular endothelial cells, preadipocytes, and adipose tissue macrophages.

This raises the possibility that the magnitude of the effects we observe, of breast tissue DNAm age being greater than other tissues, might be an underestimation, since it is possible that not all of the cells of the heterogenous sample have experienced this effect. Since it is difficult to extract DNA from adipose tissue, we suspect that the majority of DNA extracted from our whole breast tissues was from epithelial and myoepithelial cells.”

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Starving awakens ancient parasite DNA within us

This 2018 Italian human cell study conducted a series of experiments on the effects of nutrient deprivation:

“Reduced food intake, and in particular protein or amino acid (AA) restriction, extends lifespan and healthspan.

We have previously shown that, in mammalian cells, deprivation of essential AAs (methionine/cysteine or tyrosine) leads to the transcriptional reactivation of integrated silenced transgenes by a process involving epigenetic chromatic remodeling and histone acetylation.

Here we show that the deprivation of methionine/cysteine also leads to the transcriptional upregulation of endogenous retroviruses [ERVs], suggesting that essential AA starvation affects the expression not only of exogenous non-native DNA sequences, but also of endogenous anciently-integrated and silenced parasitic elements of the genome.

ERVs, comprising 8% of the human genome, represent the remnants of past infections of germ cells by exogenous retroviruses, and are mostly unable to retrotranspose in the human genome. However, they can reactivate during physiological development, or in pathological conditions like cancer, and regulate the expression of nearby genes by their LTR elements, leading to general transcriptional reprogramming.

Dissection of the underlying mechanism ruled out a role for the main AA-deficiency sensor GCN2 and pointed to the ribosome as the possible master controller.”


The study found that reality is sometimes stranger than what fiction writers dream up. 🙂

The authors cited a 2016 Danish review I hadn’t previously curated:

https://www.nature.com/articles/nrendo.2016.87 “The role of diet and exercise in the transgenerational epigenetic landscape of T2DM” (not freely available)

Contrary to what’s implied by its title, though, and as I noted in How to hijack science: Ignore its intent and focus on the 0.0001%, those reviewers didn’t cite any human studies that adequately demonstrated transgenerational epigenetic inheritance causes and effects. They admitted:

“Direct evidence that epigenetic factors drive the inheritance of T2DM [type 2 diabetes mellitus] in humans is lacking.”

The Danish reviewers then continued on as if proof of human transgenerational epigenetic inheritance was a foregone conclusion! It serves no valid scientific purpose to assume such evidence into existence.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0200783 “Amino acid deprivation triggers a novel GCN2-independent response leading to the transcriptional reactivation of non-native DNA sequences”

A mid-year selection of epigenetic topics

Here are the most popular of the 65 posts I’ve made so far in 2018, starting from the earliest:

The pain societies instill into children

DNA methylation and childhood adversity

Epigenetic mechanisms of muscle memory

Sex-specific impacts of childhood trauma

Sleep and adult brain neurogenesis

This dietary supplement is better for depression symptoms than placebo

The epigenetic clock theory of aging

A flying human tethered to a monkey

Immune memory in the brain

The lack of oxygen’s epigenetic effects on a fetus

An evolutionary view of stress and cancer

This 2018 Michigan review subject was cancer evolution:

“Based on the fact that cancer typically represents a complex adaptive system, where there is no linear relationship between lower-level agents (such as each individual gene mutation) and emergent properties (such as cancer phenotypes), we call for a new strategy based on the evolutionary mechanism of aneuploidy [abnormal number of chromosomes] in cancer, rather than continuous analysis of various individual molecular mechanisms.

Cancer evolution can be understood by the dynamic interaction among four key components:

  1. Internal and external stress;
  2. Elevated genetic and non-genetic variations (either necessary for cellular adaptation or resulting from cellular damages under stress);
  3. Genome-based macro-cellular evolution (genome replacement, emergent as new systems); and
  4. Multiple levels of system constraint which prevent/slow down cancer evolution (from tissue/organ organization to the immune system interaction).

Since the sources of stress are unlimited and unavoidable (as they are required by all living systems), there are large numbers of gene mutations / epigenetic events / chromosomal aberrations, such as aneuploidy, that can be linked to stress-mediated genomic variants. Furthermore, as environmental constraints are constantly changing, even identical instances of aneuploidy will have completely different outcomes in the context of cancer evolution, as the results of each independent run of evolution will most likely differ.

Most current research efforts are focusing on molecular profiles based on an average population, and outliers are eliminated or ignored, either by the methods used or statistical tools. The traditional view of biological research is to identify patterns from “noise,” without the realization that the so-called “noise” in fact is heterogeneity, which represents a key feature of cancer evolution by functioning as the evolutionary potential.

Understanding the molecular mechanism (both cause and effect) of aneuploidy is far from enough. A better strategy is to monitor the evolutionary process by measuring evolutionary potential. For example, the overall degree of CIN [chromosome instability] is more predictive than individual gene mutation profile.”


Although I read many abstracts of cancer research papers every week, I usually don’t curate them. I curated this paper because the reviewers emphasized several themes of this blog, including:

  • Further examples of how stress may shape one’s life.
  • How researchers miss information when they ignore or process away variation:

    Studies have demonstrated the importance of outliers in cancer evolution, as cancer is an evolutionary game of outliers. While this phenomenon can provide a potential advantage for cellular adaptation, it can also, paradoxically, generate non-specific system stress, which can further produce more genetic and non-genetic variants which favor the disease condition.”

Epigenetics researchers may benefit from evolutionary viewpoints that incorporate the interactions of stress and “genetic and non-genetic variants.”

Since epigenetic changes require inheritance in order to persist, it would be a step forward to see researchers start “measuring evolutionary potential” of these inheritance processes.

https://molecularcytogenetics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13039-018-0376-2 “Understanding aneuploidy in cancer through the lens of system inheritance, fuzzy inheritance and emergence of new genome systems”

in utero prevention of breast cancer by a broccoli sprouts diet

This 2018 Alabama rodent study investigated the epigenetic effects on developing breast cancer of timing a sulforaphane-based broccoli sprouts diet. Timing of the diet was as follows:

  1. Conception through weaning (postnatal day 28), named the Prenatal/maternal BSp (broccoli sprouts) treatment (what the mothers ate starting when they were adults at 12 weeks until their pups were weaned; the pups were never on a broccoli sprouts diet);
  2. Postnatal day 28 through the termination of the experiment, named the Postnatal early-life BSp treatment (what the offspring ate starting at 4 weeks; the mothers were never on a broccoli sprouts diet); and
  3. Postnatal day 56 through the termination of the experiment, named the Postnatal adult BSp treatment (what the offspring ate starting when they were adults at 8 weeks; the mothers were never on a broccoli sprouts diet).

“The experiment was terminated when the mean tumor diameter in the control mice exceeded 1.0 cm.

Our study indicates a prenatal/maternal BSp dietary treatment exhibited maximal preventive effects in inhibiting breast cancer development compared to postnatal early-life and adult BSp treatments in two transgenic mouse models that can develop breast cancer.

Postnatal early-life BSp treatment starting prior to puberty onset showed protective effects in prevention of breast cancer but was not as effective as the prenatal/maternal BSp treatment. However, adulthood-administered BSp diet did not reduce mammary tumorigenesis.

The prenatal/maternal BSp diet may:

  • Primarily influence histone modification processes rather than DNA methylation processes that may contribute to its early breast cancer prevention effects;
  • Exert its transplacental breast cancer chemoprevention effects through enhanced histone acetylation activator markers due to reduced HDAC1 expression and enzymatic activity.

This may be also due to the importance of a dietary intervention window that occurs during a critical oncogenic transition period, which is in early life for these two tested transgenic mouse models. Determination of a critical oncogenic transition period could be complicated in humans, which may partially explain the controversial findings of the adult BSp treatment on breast cancer development in the tested mouse models as compared the previous studies. Thus long-term consumption of BSp diet is recommended to prevent cancers in humans.”


“The dietary concentration for BSp used in the mouse studies was 26% BSp in formulated diet, which is equivalent to 266 g (~4 cups) BSp/per day for human consumption. Therefore, the concentration of BSp in this diet is physiological available and represents a practical consumption level in the human diet.

Prior to the experiment, we tested the potential influences of this prenatal/maternal BSp regimen on maternal and offspring health as well as mammary gland development in the offspring. Our results showed there was no negative effect of this dietary regimen on the above mentioned factors (data not shown) suggesting this diet is safe to use during pregnancy.”


I downgraded the study’s rating because I didn’t see where the sulforaphane active content of the diet was defined. It’s one thing to state:

“SFN as the most abundant and bioactive compound in the BSp diet has been identified as a potent HDAC inhibitor that preferably influences histone acetylation processes.”

and describe how sulforaphane may do this and may do that, and include it in the study’s title.

It’s another thing to quantify an animal study into findings that can help humans. Normal people aren’t going to eat “4 cups BSp/per day” but we may take one capsule of a sulforaphane dietary supplement when the price is $.20 a day.

The study’s food manufacturer offers dietary products to the public without quantifying all of the active contents like sulforaphane. Good for them if they can stay in business by serving customers who can’t be bothered with scientific evidence.

These researchers shouldn’t have conducted a study using the same lack of details as the food manufacturer provided, though. They should have either tasked the manufacturer to specify the sulforaphane active content, or contracted the analysis.

Regarding timing of a sulforaphane-based broccoli sprouts diet for humans, the study also didn’t provide evidence for recommending:

“Thus long-term consumption of BSp diet is recommended to prevent cancers in humans.”

http://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2018/05/15/1940-6207.CAPR-17-0423.full-text.pdf “Temporal efficacy of a sulforaphane-based broccoli sprout diet in prevention of breast cancer through modulation of epigenetic mechanisms”

A trio of epigenetic clock studies

The first 2018 epigenetic clock human study was from Finland:

“We evaluated the association between maternal antenatal depression and a novel biomarker of aging at birth, namely epigenetic gestational age (GA) based on fetal cord blood methylation data. We also examined whether this biomarker prospectively predicts and mediates maternal effects on early childhood psychiatric problems.

Maternal history of depression diagnosed before pregnancy and greater antenatal depressive symptoms were associated with child’s lower epigenetic GA. Child’s lower epigenetic GA, in turn, prospectively predicted total and internalizing problems and partially mediated the effects of maternal antenatal depression on internalizing problems in boys.”


Listening to a podcast by one of the coauthors, although the researchers’ stated intent was to determine the etiology of the findings, I didn’t hear any efforts to study the parents in sufficient detail to be able to detect possible intergenerational and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance causes and effects. There were the usual “associated with” and “it could be this, it could be that” hedges, which were also indicators of the limited methods employed toward the study’s limited design.

Why was an opportunity missed to advance human research in this area? Are researchers satisfied with non-causal individual differences non-explanations instead of making efforts in areas that may produce etiological findings?

https://www.jaacap.org/article/S0890-8567(18)30107-2/pdf “The Epigenetic Clock at Birth: Associations With Maternal Antenatal Depression and Child Psychiatric Problems” (not freely available)


The second 2018 epigenetic clock human study was from Alabama:

“We estimated measures of epigenetic age acceleration in 830 Caucasian participants from the Genetics Of Lipid Lowering Drugs and diet Network (GOLDN) considering two epigenetic age calculations.

Both DNA methylation age estimates were highly correlated with chronological age. We found that the Horvath and Hannum measures of epigenetic age acceleration were moderately correlated.

The Horvath age acceleration measure exhibited marginal associations with increased postprandial [after eating a meal] HDL [high-density lipoprotein], increased postprandial total cholesterol, and decreased soluble interleukin 2 receptor subunit alpha (IL2sRα). The Hannum measure of epigenetic age acceleration was inversely associated with fasting HDL and positively associated with postprandial TG [triglyceride], interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα).

Overall, the observed effect sizes were small.


https://clinicalepigeneticsjournal.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s13148-018-0481-4 “Metabolic and inflammatory biomarkers are associated with epigenetic aging acceleration estimates in the GOLDN study”


The third 2018 epigenetic clock human study was a meta-analysis of cohorts from the UK, Italy, Sweden, and Scotland:

“The trajectories of Δage showed a declining trend in almost all of the cohorts with adult sample collections. This indicates that epigenetic age increases at a slower rate than chronological age, especially in the oldest population.

Some of the effect is likely driven by survival bias, where healthy individuals are those maintained within a longitudinal study, although other factors like underlying training population for the respective clocks may also have influenced this trend. It may also be possible that there is a ceiling effect for Δage whereby epigenetic clock estimates plateau.”

https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/advance-article/doi/10.1093/gerona/gly060/4944478 “Tracking the Epigenetic Clock Across the Human Life Course: A Meta-analysis of Longitudinal Cohort Data”

The epigenetic clock theory of aging

My 400th blog post curates a 2018 US/UK paper by two of the coauthors of Using an epigenetic clock to distinguish cellular aging from senescence. The authors reviewed the current state of epigenetic clock research, and proposed a new theory of aging:

“The proposed epigenetic clock theory of ageing views biological ageing as an unintended consequence of both developmental programmes and maintenance programmes, the molecular footprints of which give rise to DNAm [DNA methylation] age estimators.

It is best to interpret epigenetic age estimates as a higher-order property of a large number of CpGs much in the same way that the temperature of a gas is a higher-order property that reflects the average kinetic energy of the underlying molecules. This interpretation does not imply that DNAm age simply measures entropy across the entire genome.

To date, the most effective in vitro intervention against epigenetic ageing is achieved through expression of Yamanaka factors, which convert somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells, thereby completely resetting the epigenetic clock. In vivo, haematopoietic stem cell therapy resets the epigenetic age of blood of the recipient to that of the donor.

Future epidemiological studies should consider other sources of DNA (for example, buccal cells), because more powerful estimates of organismal age can be obtained by evaluating multiple tissues. Other types of epigenetic modifications such as adenine methylation or histone modifications may lend themselves for developing epigenetic age estimators.”


I’ve previously curated four other papers cited in this review:


The challenge is: do you want your quality of life to be under or over this curve?

What are you doing to reverse epigenetic processes and realize what you want? Do you have ideas and/or behaviors that interfere with taking constructive actions to change your phenotype?

If you aren’t doing anything, are you honest with yourself about the personal roots of beliefs in fate/feelings of helplessness? Do beliefs in technological or divine interventions justify your inactions?

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41576-018-0004-3 “DNA methylation-based biomarkers and the epigenetic clock theory of ageing” (not freely available)